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Brooklyn College Professor Pens Biography on Shirley Chisholm

Longtime Park Sloper who founded Shirley Chisholm Project at Brooklyn College writes Chisholm's first biography in 40 years.

Photo Courtesy Shirley Chisholm Project at CUNY Brooklyn College.
Photo Courtesy Shirley Chisholm Project at CUNY Brooklyn College.

Barbara Winslow is a professor of Women’s Studies at Brooklyn College and a 30-year resident of Park Slope who is responsible for starting and running the Shirley Chisholm Project/Brooklyn Women’s Activism at Brooklyn College.

She was asked to pen the first biography in 40 years on Chisholm for Carol Berkin’s series of books, ‘Lives of American Women’, and jumped at the chance.

Chisholm, who was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1924, became the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and became the first woman to run for president in 1972. She was a sought-after public speaker and co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) who once remarked that, "Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes."

Patch had the opportunity to speak with Professor Winslow about Chisholm, the impact she had on her life and the new book, ‘Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change’.

When did you start the Shirley Chisholm Project, and what are some of your biggest achievements with the project to date?

I started the project in 2006, and I would say the overall greatest accomplishment is keeping Shirley Chisholm’s name alive and reintroducing her to a new generation of people in Brooklyn and across the country to whom she was. We also have the largest collection of archival material about Chisholm as part of the project in our library.

We do extraordinary public events around Shirley Chisholm day in November and have had Gloria Steinem, Anita Hill, Melissa Harris-Perry and others come and speak about the importance of Ms. Chisholm and her legacy.

Given your ties to Ms. Chisholm, when did you decide to write her bio and what was it that made you finally decide to do so?

I was asked to write this bio by Carol Berkin, who was a presidential professor at Baruch College before she retired. She was originating a series of books, ‘Lives of American Women’, and wanted me to do one on Shirley Chisholm. As soon as she asked, it took me a ‘New York nanosecond’ to say yes.

What is it about her that’s inspired you so much, and what do you hope readers take from your book? 

I was in a liberation group in Seattle, Wash. in 1972 when she ran for president. I believe our group sent $15 to her campaign, which in 1972 was the equivalent of sending her hundreds of dollars, so that was very exciting. She inspired me 40 years ago. 

When I was teaching in Brooklyn College, I was reminded that she was a graduate of the college. When I proposed we name a women’s study for research (in her name) I was astounded that many of my colleagues, professors of women’s studies did not know who she was. I was galvanized to create this project so that her life and legacy would not be forgotten. While Chisholm is the focus right now, lives of so many other women need to be written about and understood too. 

I think what’s important about this book is that not only is it the first scholarly biography of her, but the book is part of a series that is designed to bring women’s lives into the school’s curriculum, and that’s what I’m very proud of.

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